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Working effectively with lawyers

Navigating complex legal landscapes and structuring and documenting important legal relationships can be daunting. Working with a skilled lawyer will usually make managing and resolving legal tasks and issues a much easier process. However, how much benefit you get out of your engagement with a lawyer will depend a lot on your own approach to supporting the process and developing a good professional relationship with your lawyer. Active involvement and management on the client’s part is crucial to ensure efficient communication, mutual understanding, and effective outcomes.

The following points explore some issues and tips for making effective use of a lawyer and fostering a solid professional relationship that allows both the client and the lawyer to maximize the benefits of the lawyer’s expertise (with a bit of extra emphasis on some issues that come up more often in Myanmar).

1.Most legal issues are not simple ‘cookie cutter’ matters.

There is no ‘Big Black Book of Legal Answers’ that a lawyer can just open to look up the exact response or action for your situation. If it were that easy, the job of a lawyer would not exist.

Laws need to be interpreted and applied. Good lawyers understand – or quickly figure out – how the law applies to the client’s situation based on what the relevant law actually means in practice (not just what it says) and its relevance to the details of the client’s situation.

Some legal tasks are relatively simple and are similar in almost every case. These types of tasks can be amenable to fixed pricing and standardized services. However, many legal tasks are larger and/or more complicated. These tasks need to be assessed and scoped at the outset to try to identify the potential size and complexity of the task and what is likely to be required, and to set some parameters and expectations for the lawyer’s engagement. A prospective client needs to engage and communicate with the lawyer(s) it is considering hiring to allow for this initial scoping as a crucial part of determining both whether and how the lawyer can go about taking on the task, and whether the client wants to hire that lawyer. At least an initial meeting or conversation for the purpose of initial scoping should almost always be provided by the lawyer free of charge (and obligation) – so the prospective client doesn’t have anything to lose except some time by communicating the key background details and requirements at the outset.

For example, it’s not sensible or reasonable to ask a lawyer to provide a fee quote for preparing a shareholders agreement without providing any information or background and expect that they will have a standard fixed price for the job. Shareholders agreements can range from a simple agreement for a small start-up company of perhaps 15 pages in length to a complicated agreement for a large incorporated joint venture, which could be 50 pages (or more). The prospective client should discuss the context in which, and purposes for which, the agreement is required to allow the lawyer to assess what is likely to be involved.

If you are only interested in procuring legal services if they are super cheap, fixed price and very low involvement on your part, consider asking yourself whether you really want to hire a lawyer at all? If those are your main criteria for engaging a lawyer, you may be better off deciding that you don’t actually want to use a lawyer and saving the time of both you and any lawyers you might have been considering contacting.

2.Details usually matter and should be clearly and openly communicated.

Resolving a legal issue or reaching an outcome in a legal relationship is a process. Like most processes, legal work has a ‘garbage in, garbage out’ aspect. The appropriate structure and content of an agreement or the correct application of regulations can be affected by nuances and small points of detail. It is therefore essential that clients provide their lawyers with timely and accurate instructions and share all relevant information, facts, and documents related to the client’s matter. You should not just assume that your lawyer is aware of all relevant information.

Transparent, clear and timely communication is the cornerstone of a successful lawyer-client relationship. Effective communication will enable your lawyer to devise the most suitable legal strategies for your situation.

3.Clearly define objectives and expectations.

In addition to open communication of the factual background, clients should also clearly articulate their objectives and expectations to their lawyer from the outset. This will help the lawyer to further understand the client’s position. It will also allow the lawyer and client to discuss what’s likely to be achievable within the relevant factual and legal matrix to identify realistic goals, align expectations with those goals, and develop an appropriate strategy.

4.Choose a lawyer who’s a good fit.

A basic requirement is, of course, having a lawyer who has the technical ability and expertise to do the job. In Myanmar, given the modest size of the economy and the status of legal frameworks, there is not as much opportunity for lawyers to specialize as there often is in other jurisdictions. In the corporate and commercial space, many lawyers in Myanmar are necessarily more or less generalists, perhaps with some focus on particular areas, but not a dedicated specialisation per se. Clients in Myanmar may therefore prefer to focus on selecting a lawyer with good generally relevant experience who they are confident is capable and adaptable, and is familiar with dealing with the frequent vagaries and uncertainties of legal processes in Myanmar.

Equally important is choosing a lawyer that the client feels reasonably comfortable with and in whom the client generally has confidence. There is not much point or value in a client setting themselves up for an unnecessarily stressful process because they find dealing with their lawyer difficult, and/or they are constantly worried about whether their lawyer has identified the important issues and is pushing their matter in the right direction. If you don’t feel like you can trust and work with the lawyer you are considering, speak to someone else. Even in a small market like Myanmar, there are usually other choices available.

5.Actively participate and collaborate.

Engagement and communication from the client should not cease once a lawyer is hired and takes over management of the legal issues. Ongoing active participation and collaboration from the client throughout the course of the matter is crucial. Clients should be proactive in providing updates, promptly responding to requests, participating in meetings and discussions, engaging in decision-making processes, asking questions, and seeking clarification. A collaborative approach will help to ensure that you and your lawyer are on the same page and to give you a sense of ownership over your legal matter.

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